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Published
Mar 24, 2020
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Frasers U-turn after saying 'health essential' Sports Direct to stay open

Published
Mar 24, 2020

Frasers Group has changed its mind about a plan to keep its Sports Direct and Evans Cycles stores open "where possible" following the UK government’s order for all clothing stores to close. The company had said on Monday that because the stores sell sports and fitness equipment, they're selling essential goods.


Sports Direct


But after calling for guidance from the government, it said the stores would stay closed (even though "bicycle shops" are allowed to open), until it's specifically told they can open.

The company had written to its staff very quickly after prime minister Boris Johnson announced a virtual lockdown for the UK with CFO Chris Wootton saying at the time: “We stock a huge range of sports equipment designed for exercising at home … indeed, home fitness is the number one trending topic on social media after coronavirus itself. Against the backdrop of the closure of gyms, the demand for these types of products has increased exponentially as the population looks to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

“Consequently, we are uniquely well placed to help keep the UK as fit and healthy as possible during this crisis and thus our Sports Direct and Evans Cycles stores will remain open where possible to allow us to do this (in accordance with the government’s current social distancing guidance). There is no one else that has the range of product and range of stores to make this reasonably accessible for the whole population.”

But the deluge of criticism that resulted was a PR nightmare for the company and followed similar criticism for the Pets at Home chain, which had also asserted that it should stay open because of its veterinary and food operations. Critics, however, focused on its less necessary operations such as pet grooming. The stores remain open.

Monday’s announcement said that stores selling essentials could stay open and mentioned supermarkets, pharmacies and post offices. It specifically called out clothing stores as having to close, but made no mention of sports shops.

A big question had been whether, by keeping Sports Direct and Evans stores open, Frasers would generate much traffic. High streets, retail parks and shopping centres had already seen their traffic slowing to a trickle and yesterday's announcement will have dented that footfall further, except for those locations that have food stores and pharmacies. Consumers would have had to make specific trips to the stores and the government is aiming to clamp down on such trips.

And while it's likely that more consumers would be investing in a range of sports-related products during the lockdown, from equipment to clothing and running shoes, it's also likely that they would be more inclined to buy these online.

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